There are not often consequences for men who are reported to have sexually abused women. But maybe, just maybe things are changing for the better. Erstwhile Hollywood power broker Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of two felony sex crimes last week. His case may prove that sometimes reporting sexual abuse will not be in vain. It lends something like hope to the myriad women who talk about their experiences, only to be ridiculed, mocked and, crucially, disbelieved.
As Crystal Dicks writes in the Mail & Guardian this week, “The verdict highlights a number of critical issues required to build systems, processes and advocacy when it comes to this work.”
One of the key criticisms of the #MeToo movement is the potential damage it may do to natural justice and due process.
Dicks notes that the Weinstein case demonstrates that “when women speak out, and when those of us at the receiving end of these complaints hear them, believe them and support them through a complainant- or victim-centred process, it does not mean that we don’t want to see or adhere to due process or fairness in relation to the rights of the accused”.
This is a crucial reflection as South Africa this week grapples with what happens after a public figure is accused of sexual assault.
On Twitter last year, local house phenomenon Lady Zamar accused hip-hop artist Sjava of having “abused (verbally and once sexually)” her in the recent past.
The thread was subsequently removed from her account and except for some fans expressing their shock and disappointment, the story appeared to have disappeared. And Sjava’s career appeared to be continuing uninterrupted.
Then last weekend the Sunday World reported that Zamar had opened a case against Sjava.
Days later, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival announced that it had removed Sjava from its 2020 line-up. On Thursday morning, broadcaster Multichoice announced that the DStv Mzansi Viewer’s Choice awards had withdrawn his name from the song of the year and best artist nominee lists, in addition to cancelling his performance at the award ceremony.
Sjava has rejected the allegations made against him. Writing on Facebook and Twitter, “Okoqala, angimdlwengulanga uLady Zamar. I did not rape her,” he said. He also shared a timeline of encounters between him, Lady Zamar and their legal teams since she first made the allegations on Twitter.
His denials ought not to make the very serious allegations made against him any less serious. And the professional consequences he has faced cannot be substituted for justice.